Careers on fishing vessels
Fishing is a challenging but rewarding career in the UK. There are over 400 ports and harbours in the UK where fishing vessels sail out to catch and a huge variety in the types of fishing vessels you can work on too.
There are three important roles on a fishing vessel:
- Deckhands, are responsible for day-to-day tasks such as equipment preparation, operation and repair, cleaning chores, cooking, and gutting and storing fish.
- Mates and Skippersmanage and supervise the vessel's crew and are responsible for the safe and efficient operation of the vessel. Many skippers will also share some deckhand duties, particularly on smaller vessels.
- Engineers are responsible for maintaining mechanical and electrical equipment on the vessel, which includes propulsion equipment, steering equipment, and board pumping equipment.
It is possible to learn on the job and undertake training in order to progress to mate, skipper and engineer roles, though most new entrant fishermen will start out in trainee deckhand roles.
Find out more about each role further down the page.
Deckhands undertake many duties around the vessel, including preparing the deck, handling and repairing gear, and handling and storing the catch. Below is a summary of the responsibilities and job opportunities of both trainee and experienced deckhands. More information about training for fishermen can be found here.
Trainee deckhands undertake work on the vessel's deck, including the use, storage and maintenance of fishing gear, though helping out in the engine room may occasionally be necessary.
With experience, trainee deckhands will become competent deckhands who can move on to become engineer or deck officers on larger vessels, or they may go on to become mate or skippers of inshore vessels.
New entrants must attend basic courses which cover the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) statutory safety training requirements in sea survival, first aid, fire fighting and health and safety. On top of this, all deckhands must be physically fit, have good eyesight, and be able to communicate well with others.
Experienced deckhands must prepare the deck and equipment for catching, operate and maintain fishing gear and other equipment, and gut and store fish. Deckhands may also partake in cooking for crew members and must ensure the vessel is kept clean.
Experienced deckhands can progress to becoming a mate and then a skipper, once the proper qualifications have been achieved, or instead move into engineering. Some deckhands may invest in their own small boats and become inshore skippers. Moving into related maritime industries, including the Merchant Navy, offshore support and harbour tugboat work, is also possible.
In addition to the requirements for new entrants, experienced deckhands must attend another basic course which covers MCA statutory safety training requirements in safety awareness. On top of this, all deckhands must be physically fit, have good eyesight and be able to communicate well with others.
Skippers and mates
As skippers gain more qualifications and experience, they can progress from commanding vessels in inshore waters to fishing worldwide. The duties of mates and skippers are similar on all types of fishing vessels:
Skippers are responsible for all aspects of health and safety, as well as crew and vessel management. This includes the location and selection of fishing grounds, operation of fishing gear, vessel navigation, selection of fishing methods, management of business arrangements, and maintenance of all ship records and catch logs.
Mates use their expertise in health and safety, watchkeeping, fish-finding instruments, radio communications, and fishing techniques to assist the skipper. Mates are often responsible for ensuring that fishing gear operates correctly, and that the catch is properly stored.
However, different kinds of mate and skipper positions will have different entry requirements, and offer different opportunities for promotion. On vessels of 16.5m and above, mates and skippers are required to hold Deck Officer Certificates of Competency.
Engineers are responsible for maintaining and repairing electrical and mechanical equipment on the fishing vessel. More information about training for fishermen can be found here.
Trainee engineers work as part of a team on deck, and occasionally in the engine room. Sharing many responsibilities with trainee deckhands, trainee engineers will gradually be given more duties relating to maintenance and repair of equipment.
Trainee engineers may want to progress to second engineers, or instead pursue a career as a skipper. Engineers can also move into other maritime industries, such as the Merchant Navy.
All trainee engineers must attend approved basic safety training before going to sea, as well as courses covering the basic Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) statutory basic safety training in sea survival, first aid, fire fighting, and health and safety. Trainee engineers must also be physically fit with good eyesight and an ability to communicate and work well with others.
The second engineer on a fishing vessel is responsible for maintaining all mechanical and electrical equipment including propulsion equipment, steering equipment and board pumping equipment. This includes testing and diagnosing faults. On vessels with an engine power of 750kw of more, second engineers will assist the chief engineer.
Second engineers can progress to the role of chief engineer after receiving the MCA Engineer Officer Certificate of Competency (Fishing Vessel) Class 1. Alternatively, moving into other maritime industries is an option for second engineers.
If working on a fishing vessel with an engine power of 750kw or more, second engineers must hold the Engineer Officer Certificate of Competency (Fishing Vessel) Class 2. To be eligible to sit for this, you must be over 19 years of age and meet the following criteria:
- Have completed a six-week approved course on the operation and maintenance of machinery
- Have two years of sea service in an engineering capacity on a fishing vessel with an engine of 100kw or more
- Full engineering apprenticeship and six months of sea service in an engineering capacity on a fishing vessel with an engine of 100kw or more
- Full engineering apprenticeship followed by three months in the Merchant Navy or Royal Marines in an engineering capacity plus three months of sea service in an engineering capacity on a fishing vessel with an engine of 100kw or more
- 30 months of sea service in an engineering capacity on a fishing vessel with an engine of 100kw or more
- Pass the Engineer Officer (Fishing Vessel) Class 2 Oral Examination
- Hold the basic sea survival, first aid, fire fighting and safety awareness certificates, as well as the advanced fire fighting certificate and the medical first aid certificate.
Chief engineers will use their extensive knowledge of health and safety and fishing vessel machinery to deal with engineering emergencies, and to oversee the maintenance and operation of the vessel's engine and machinery. This includes regularly testing steering equipment, operating all onboard pumping equipment, monitoring instruments and equipment, and diagnosing mechanical and electrical faults. The chief engineer is also responsible for any other engineering personnel on the vessel.
Chief engineers looking for career progression may consider moving into related maritime industries, including the Merchant Navy, where fishing vessel experience will be well recognised.
For chief engineers working on fishing vessels with an engine power of 750kw or more, there is a statutory requirement to hold the MCA Engineer Officer Certificate of Competency (Fishing Vessel) Class 1. To be eligible to sit for this, candidates must hold an Engineer Officer Certificate of Competency Class 2, and have satisfactorily completed at least:
- 21 months of qualifying sea service in an engineering capacity on a fishing vessel with an engine of 750kw or more and
- Courses in basic sea survival, first aid, fire fighting and safety awareness, advanced fire fighting and medical first aid.
More information about maritime careers, qualifications and learning pathways can be read at the Maritime Skills Alliance website.